Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Chicken Pasta Salad

Pasta Salad is just about the least informative name a dish could have, second maybe to Soup or, if you're in Minnesota, Hot Dish.  "Pasta," kind of like "broth" can hold just about anything, gently creadle its flavors, and deliver them to youin fantastic--or just kind of average--combination.  So what distinguishes a great pasta salad?  First, of course, it's one that uses local and seasonal ingredients.  Things that grow together naturally taste good together, if you follow a few basic rules of common sense.  That's why I think of the main distinguishing factor in a pasta salad name to be its season.  Second, the pasta must be cooked just to al dente, and then just after it's drained either rinsed in cold water or tossed with a little olive oil, or both.  It doesn't matter much what kind of pasta you use, though spaghetti, linguini, and angel hair are pretty much out.  And third, it contains the right balance of flavors, colors, and textures.  For this, I have a basic set of categories to draw from.  The key is to get at least one but not more than two things from each category.  A pasta salad CAN get overloaded, so if you use for example red pepper as your crunchy, count it also as one of your reds.  After you've prepped everything, toss it together with the pasta and douse it with a good amount (two-three times what you'd use for a regular salad of the same size) of vinaigrette.  You can serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

1) Protein- pasta salad tastes great without a protein, but it fills you up and doesn't really satisfy.  Good in the Fall Pasta Salad are
          cold chopped chicken
          cubed hard salami
          feta cheese
          garbanzo beans

2)  Something crunchy
          raw corn, sliced off the ear
          raw red pepper, diced
          raw red onion, diced
          raw green beans, chopped
          raw carrotts, chopped
3) Something roasted
          red peppers
          zucchini or summer quash
          winter squash
4) Tomatoes of some sort (fresh, roasted, sundried...)
5) Something sweet
     You can bring out the sweet in something savory
          caramelized onions
          roasted red peppers
          roasted or caramelized carrotts
     Or you can use something more traditionally sweet
          apple or pear
6) A range of colors: the red white and green of the Italian flag are a must, but best is to get at least one color beyond that.  Remember also to stick to the rule of not more than two things in any category, so if you used red pepper and tomato already, then you've hit your red limit.  There's actually a nice range of colors in the lists above, but a few other favorites still need to be mentioned.     
          Basil, whole leaves or roughly chopped
          zucchini, raw or roasted
          eggplant, roasted
          summer squash, raw or roasted
          corn, raw or cooked